Tuesday, 2 December 2008

Role of the LOCAL MP

05 July 1858. The Province of Canada's new Inspector General rises to speak in the colonial assembly. He has an idea to end fighting and factions in the Canadian Parliament and to save British North America's economy. Why not federate the colonies? Why not bring Rupert's land into the arrangement? Perhaps even the colonies across the Mountains? Surely such a grand country will not remained embroiled in petty squables.

The House of Assembly (also called the Legislature or Parliament) agree to take a chance on Galt's idea, to move beyond their personal prejudices and grasp a bigger vision. They choose three members of their assembly: John Ross, George Etienne Cartier, and Alexander Torrance Galt put the idea before the British Government.

The idea is so big that, when the MPPs arrive in London, many British officials doubt it can be accomplished. But the Colonial Secretary, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton, gives it a fair hearing. He likes the idea even if it is grand. (Not surprising, Lytton is a novelist and a friend of Charles Dickens.)

It take eight more years before Canada becomes the first nation within the British Empire (other than Britain herself). But, without that first vote in the Canadian Assembly, it would never have happened. Without the authorization of ordinary MPPs (MLAs) on all sides of the house, no moves would have been made.

Canada's House of Commons and Provincial Legislatures are the modern version of that 1858 Assembly. We elect members to represent us in these assemblies. No law in Canada can come into effect without their authorization. Or the Senate's. Or Royal Assent. (In short, the Cabinet has no authorization to govern on its own.)

Over the past 60 years, many Canadians have lost sight of the importance of making sure their Member of Parliament (or MP, MPP, MLA or MNA) carries their vote in these assemblies.

The role of political parties (and the highly paid hired hands in these backroom) has impinged upon the role of elected members of legislative assemblies. So much so, that many people no longer vote for their local member, they vote for a party. They accept that their member of the assembly should be follow the dictates of poltical parties and their funders. Several of these political parties capitalize on regional and ethnic divisions within the country to get support. (That's a separate post.)

But political parties have no Constitutional role in Canada. The Prime Minister is merely the Member of Parliament who has the confidience of the House. Much of the powers that job has garnered in recent years are in fact counter to democracy in Canada.

Given the current political crisis in Ottawa, perhaps Canadians will take greater care to elect members of their legislative assemblies that can represent them. Perhaps the role of political parties and ideologues will wane.

And perhaps Canadian kids will be taught how their system actually works.

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